Tuesday, April 23, 2024

‘Choose Love’ is a Sanitized, Less Fun Version of Fleabag

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Interactive films aren’t new. They are another attempt to try and blend video games with film, merging the two art forms with similar languages but vastly different dialects. Since it comes from Netflix, you can be assured the quality will be anything but high.

The latest is a romantic-comedy interactive film called Choose Love. Stuart McDonald’s interactive movie could be trashy fun, but neither he nor Josann McGibbon’s script leans into it enough. To add insult to injury, many of the choices in the beginning have shockingly little effect on the life of the main character, Cami (Laura Marano). 

choose love
Cami (Laura Marano) decides she needs to find herself by cheating on her boyfriend.

Choose Love is a rom-com where the lead has almost no chemistry with either of her suitors, the one that got away, humanitarian heartthrob Jack (Jordi Webber), or the himbo British rock star Rex Galier (Avan Jogia). The only person she does have chemistry with is…her boyfriend, Paul (Scott Michael Foster).

You didn’t misread that; Cami has a boyfriend at the start and throughout half of the movie. 

If this were an actual rom-com, Cami’s indecision whether or not to break up with Paul could be played as endearing or making Cami a delightful dumpster fire. Instead, we are given a bland, de-sexualized Disney-esque version of “Fleabag,” where Cami breaks the fourth wall and sometimes even blames us for our bad choices. A trait that only caused me to make more bad decisions out of spite. I can’t be the only one who shouted at Cami to make her own choices if she doesn’t like mine! 

Choose Love is a cheap, shameless cash grab that is fun for a little bit, but the overwhelming inanity of the characters involved quickly wears thin. As a game, it is mildly amusing but shoddily conceived. For one, many of the choices we are asked to make have minimal effect on Cami’s life. Yelling at her boss Dan (Blair Strong) at the recording studio where she’s a sound mixer or being passive-aggressive with him may give you different reactions for Cami but still leads you to the next scene. Likewise, being brutally honest with Rex or politely couching her criticisms as a fan still brings you to the same scene no matter what.

Even a scene in which you can get Cami fired or get her promoted with a raise will take you to the same scene. The only difference is Cami will happily tell people she was fired or got a raise. In other words, Choose Love has no real stakes. Outside the one moment in which if you choose to be with Rex Galier, you have to cross a picket line. What? WHAT?!

I’m not even going to get into Cami’s sister Amalia (Megan Smart), who seems okay with her sister cheating on her boyfriend. Though perhaps Amalia’s ethics barometer is as warped as her sisters as she tells Cami, “You couldn’t be bad if you tried.” Actually, Amalia, fun fact: she can and isn’t even trying that hard!

But Choose Love fails worse as a movie and not just because it puts Marano in a series of atrocious outfits, all of which seemingly have the same hideous skirt. I’ll tell you, sometimes you never really know how much lighting, editing, pacing, wit, and visual aesthetics make a movie until you watch a film devoid of any of those things. McGibbon’s script tries to flesh out Cami as a character, but Choose Love, like an AI bot, has an atrocious memory.

For instance, Paul buys Cami some batteries as a surprise gift because the next day is “Smoke Alarm Day.” Setting apart that Cami seems precisely like the type of insufferable person to make a holiday of changing the batteries in your smoke alarms, McDonald and McGibbon go through the trouble of having Cami try to explain it to her niece. But then it’s never brought up again or explained because the explanation is given to us as the tail end of a conversation we’re not privy to.

It’s mentioned that Cami’s parents divorced but got remarried. Fine, until Paul assures Cami, after deciding to take a break from their relationship, that they are not their parents and will get back together. But her parents did get back together, and why the hell am I being shown this scene, I chose Jack damn it!

McDonald and McGibbon make you sit through a series of tedious and asinine meet-cutes only to have a dream sequence smack dab in the middle of the movie where you choose which man you want to end up with. Ignoring the brashfully banal heteronormative aspects of this hot mess of a decision-making process, there’s no option for all three. But after you make your choice here, that’s when the fundamental changes start happening, but since Marano’s Cami has no chemistry with anyone, it’s less “Finally, the choices have meaning” and more “What fresh hell is this?”

To Marano’s credit, she’s given nothing to play, but she does it well. Had Choose Love been a movie, she might have been able to find life and charm within Cami. However, there is a scene you must watch no matter what, so grin and bear it, where Cami finds a wedding ring in the escape room that comes close to being effective. It’s a sharp bit of writing by McGibbon and a decent bit of staging by McDonald, building an energy and tension lacking in the rest of Choose Love. Or rather, comparatively a bit of sharp writing, it shows Cami’s emotional state and inner conflict.

For much of Choose Love, I wondered if Cami’s emptiness came from a job she hated or that she wasn’t getting any from Paul and perhaps should use those smoke alarm batteries for something else instead. It is another installment of the modern cinema’s attempt to stack a cast with attractive people in a world where no one has sex, wants to have sex or talks about sex. But there’s lots of kissing and talks of wanting kids, and boy howdy, is there a lot to unpack there.

choose love
Cami (Marano) and Rex Galier (Avan Jogia) laugh to show they are having fun and are amusing, but nothing funny has actually happened.

Interactive movies aren’t new, nor are Choose Your Own Adventure stories. But the difference is with Choose Your Own Adventure stories; your choices could kill you or abruptly end the story. Choose Love is so safe that no matter your choice, the run time is roughly the same. Part of the problem may be that film as an art form is both a visual medium and a dance of passive voyeurism and active interrogation of the images and emotions it creates. 

Choose Love replaces the passivity with an illusion of active-ness. When, in reality, it is merely a paper-thin, tightly controlled product that offers no insight into love, humanity, society, or even Cami. It’s not even frothy escapism, as it never dares to try and pull you in or immerse you in any story or atmosphere because doing that would require some sort of risk. 

Choose Love isn’t escapism either. It is the epitome of the word “content.” It seeks neither to entertain, enlighten, or provoke. Instead, it seeks only to get you to spend time on the site. That’s not art; it’s content, and not even very good content at that. 

Images courtesy of Netflix

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